Friday, March 30, 2012

Sharing A Learning Experience

I'm sort of thinking that every other week is a good, manageable schedule for my Friday Review today something a little different.

I'd like to share a 'buying' experience I recently had that was quite disappointing and frustrating to me. And I wonder if I could ask you to take the time to share your opinions. Settle in cuz as usual, I'm wordy!

Many years ago I ran across a piece of mass-produced metal art that I thought would be perfect to hang outside. We were completely revamping our backyard and this fit our style well. It was a purchase from BiMart and cost me $20 (we put a wood backing on it so it's just the metal part that I bought). After hanging it up, J loved it and really wanted at least 2 more similar pieces to fill in more space (what you are seeing is our concrete block garage that we covered with a lattice that has been stained...we now have evergreen hydrangeas that grow fast and vine-like entangling with the lattice to cover a lot of the space).

And a very blurry picture (sorry, it's all I could find) so you can see what it looked like last year and to see the full extent to show why we wanted two more pieces to fill in more space.

So I periodically started doing online searches to find something similar (the product wasn't available via BiMart anymore). And I never could find anything like it. This past year, I was struggling to come up with a great Xmas present for J and so started seriously trying to figure out if I could have something similar made locally. Starting with a recommendation from a friend I made tons of calls both locally and with businesses I found online that did metal work. And finally found that a couple local high schools had laser machines and that this would be pretty simple to do. The teacher I ended up talking to was enthusiastic and said no problem, he even had a student in mind that knew more than he did about this type of work (the teacher is new and I think wanted to initiate things like this with the community so was very helpful). He didn't think it could be done by the holiday season (which was not an issue for me...J knew I was doing this and so essentially I had already given the gift) but was positive they could get it done a couple weeks into the spring semester.

I wanted 2 pieces and so drew the designs I wanted to have cut, and then we met with the teacher and student...taking in the original so that th
ey would know what we wanted (size etc). Both were enthusiastic and told me how easy and inexpensive this would be, only taking a couple hours of the student's time and not very much in materials (and showed us the cutting machine which is pretty amazing by the way). We didn't finalize a cost, but they estimated it would cost about $25-$40 per piece and that would cover the student's time, the materials, and a 'rental' fee of sorts with the school. I was very satisfied with this but did say that we wanted to be fair to the student.

Throughout January I kept getting emails that told me the student had taken on more projects and wasn't working on ours very much, sorry for the delay. Which was fine. I really had no timeline for this...I was just happy I was finally getting them. But then, issues starting arising. First was that they were having difficulties with the designs and it was taking them a bit longer to get them set up into the computer. I asked if I could help...change them to make them work better...and if not, could I see what was being cut before they proceeded to know if I'd like what changes had been made. My request was ignored. Irritation number one.

Then mid-way through January I received an email from the teacher telling me that he had been to an art market (maybe in Portland but I'm not sure) and after seeing what artists were charging for metal-work, they had reconsidered what this would cost. And made it appear they were being generous since the pieces at this market were so much more expensive (ridiculously expensive in his words). And asked me to pay at least $100/piece (which was half to the student, half to the school). I was pretty astounded and in all honesty, pretty angry at both him and me (me for not setting up a formal price from the beginning...I was too trusting).

Now, don't get me wrong...I'm not cheap and want to pay fair for someone's time. But the thing I was angry about was the comparison of this project (which was someone else's original idea in terms of shape, size etc but with 'my' designs to be cut...quoted because they were pulled heavily from stencils I had...which is okay in my mind because I'm not selling anything with those designs) to a project that was original artwork where the artist not only designed and made every aspect of the art, they also have to pay for travel and booths (among other things) etc to show at these markets in order to make a living (and a hard one at that). And to me, this is like comparing apples and oranges. If, I had asked the student to come up with an original design, the comparison gets a little closer.

I responded as such to the teacher, trying very hard to be diplomatic and generous and told him that without knowing the cost of materials and how many hours the student put into this project, I was having a hard time figuring out a fair price for these pieces. The teacher responded that he understood and that $75/piece was fair. I actually didn't think this was unfair, but it was twice the estimate I was given at the beginning with no indication of actual costs and time put into it. I agreed because I wanted to be done with it.

A couple weeks later, I got word that one piece was done and could I come look at it to make sure it was what I wanted. Scheduling became a problem that week and so he sent a picture of it. I wasn't actually happy with it since they had taken liberty with the designs and not let me approve those changes but frankly just wanted this ordeal done. So I told him I was completely satisfied and asked him to let me know when the other was ready. About a week later, the teacher told me that he hadn't been satisfied with the framing and they decided to do something different. So, by the way, you'll need to pay $20 more in materials. I wasn't given a choice. Which felt manipulative to me. I had already approved the piece and again, things were changing at an added expense to me.

Finally, months after starting this process, I was told that the pieces were done and I could pick them up. Again I requested some indication of the time the student spent working on this project so I could be fair with payment. And again, I was not given this information...just a request that maybe I would want to pay him a bit more than we agreed on.

The pieces are okay...and some of you may look at them and think they look fabulous and what is my problem (that's sort of what J said!)? They will be fine...they just aren't what the teacher/student and I agreed on nor do I think are 'worth' what I finally ended up paying for them (when I picked them up and after I had paid, I asked again how long it had taken, and finally was told 5 hours...and when I picked it up, the teacher told the student I was there to pick up 'his art'...the lesson hadn't been learned yet). (they are different colors BTW, because the student accidentally sprayed an anti-rust solution on one...considering we want it to rust...)

Understand that though some people in my life may choke on their drink if they heard me say this, I am not a confrontational person and I avoid it as much as I can. That said, if I had dealt with these issues from a professional metal-worker, I probably wouldn't have stood for it and made sure that in the end, I was getting exactly what I agreed to pay for. But a teacher and student situation really complicates this for me. I paid more than twice what was originally agreed upon for something I wasn't happy with. I let them manipulate me essentially because I didn't feel like I had the right to expect so much from a student.

If you have stayed with me for this long, please share you thoughts on:
  1. How would you have handled this situation? Is there a difference because it was a student rather than a professional? If so, should there be?
  2. Do you agree with my position that this was more a contract situation rather than purchasing a piece of original artwork and thus the costs should reflect that?
  3. Now that it is over, and knowing that the teacher wants to do more projects like this in the future, do I let it go? Or do I send an email which very diplomatically lays out what I think went wrong with our interaction? It won't change anything for me, but I feel like the teacher and student need to know that how they approach such collaborations in the future should be changed. And maybe say a bit about what is original artwork...considering when I was leaving they showed me pieces of yard art that they had copied exactly from someone else's pieces...and they wanted to sell it as their own.
Thanks in advance...and please, don't hesitate to tell me I was being naive or I wasn't justified in being frustrated. I really would like to learn from this for the future.
_ _ _ _ _

Now playing:
The Cobbler's Daughter by Kate Rusby



Anna said...

I think your frustration is justified. I would have trusted these guys too. Bad luck! Next time you will write it down on a piece of paper before ordering…
Does it make a difference between a student or a professional? Students should not make a living out of such work. Or if they do, they should pay a rent to the school for the room and the material, and they should pay taxes from their income (or at least here in Switzerland). Of course it is fair for you to pay for the material and some of the hours spent on this work. But from my point of view, when a student accepts such a project, it is much more to gain experience than to earn money! This should have been a win-win process for you and the student!
If a PROFESSIONAL delivers a piece of work, let’s say with an anti-rust solution sprayed on it whereas the CLIENT did not want that, then the professional would have to supports 100% of the costs of this failed order and do it again for the client the way he wanted it.
If you want to write them an email, I would not loose time to discuss this with them. They will learn by themselves if they continue this way! But you can say something about “original artwork”. I know how important this is for you since you do not want to copy CDs when you and I exchange music for example. Artists have rights. You cannot just reproduce a pattern, a drawing, a sculpture or whatever without asking the permission! They should understand this… You or someone else could pay them for material and work, OK. But the costs should not include “creation” or “original artwork” if this is not the case…
So they might be brought down to earth if they are going this way. Forget them and look forward to the Spring coming up!

kate said...

I would say your disgruntlement is warranted. However, I would not go back to the teacher alone. I would ask for an interview with either the school principal or the district assistant superintendent. I don't say this because I think you should stir the pot, but coming from a person who is heavily involved in school things -- I know that schools are trying to foster these type of community connections. The powers-that-be need to know that this teacher isn't maybe going about it the right way, and that perhaps some training or mentoring needs to happen. In a school everything is a learning opportunity, including a disgruntled customer.
I'd be happy to discuss this further out of the comments if you want more :-)

Kim in Oregon said...

I agree with Kate--once money comes into it, someone other than the teacher needs to get involved just to bring a level of professionalism into it. It doesn't make it better, and won't correct the situation, but can make things better for others.

I definitely agree with you on the fair price thing--it's the difference between someone painting your portrait and doing a paint-by-number portrait. Again, though, this is clearly not the teacher's area of expertise. But it is hard to extricate yourself from that situation once you got so deeply immersed in it.

You can do two things. Just call it done, or send an email to teacher and administrator thanking them for the work and outlining your thoughts on how they can best move forward with doing more of these community projects. I would simply say "from my experiences in the art and craft market, creating an original piece that includes the design aspect should be priced differently than executing the piece from an existing design (like you did for me).

ps. I think the work is lovely!

BeadKnitter said...

I would not have paid for the one with the anti-rust coating on it. I would require it be done over correctly. You are paying for this work, you should get what you payed for. The student needs to learn that if he makes a mistake he has to fix it. The teacher needs to learn that too.

I also don't think they should have compared this work with the professional work. In fact, it should have cost much less. For one thing, you came up with the design. For the school, it's just contract work, not original art. I believe you're too nice. I would not have put up with any of that.

melissa said...

i don't have much new to add to this discussion - i agree with kate and anna and think that you should let your voice be heard.
i too have trouble "stirring the pot" as it were, but this is a situation where i think it would behoove you to speak your mind. especially if the teacher wants to continue to have ventures like this in the future.
they need to have a groundwork in place for future orders to avoid another situation like yours.

Jacey said...

How irritating! I would be equally frustrated, and I'm probably even less confrontational than you are. I would probably swallow it and move on, but I completely understand your desire to help them improve this process for any future endeavors.

I think Kate is right in that a dialogue involving a school official is probably wise.

aknitter said...

Interesting situation. You are right, dealing with a teacher and student is very different than hiring someone to do this for you. I completely agree that this is very different than original art. They were basically copying something someone else designed. I also think the student is not a professional, he/she was more an apprentice/trainee, and that level of work is not nearly as highly valued. I recommend you provide constructive feedback to the teacher, explaining what you think went wrong with the transaction... so this can be a learning experience for both teacher and student. All that said.... I may have reacted/not confronted the issues the same way you did, although for the pricing I may have baulked and backed out of the deal. I'm like that; more bull headed, ending up NOT getting anything rather than getting what I really wanted, just on principle. I do think they are lovely, even if though not what you were really after.

Sue said...

Tough situation. I'm not at all a confrontational person, but I don't think I would have paid more than twice what I was originally quoted, and I certainly wouldn't have paid for extra materials because they messed up the first time. I probably would have canceled the order when the teacher first raised the price.

The teacher raising the prices because of what he saw at an art market, made by professional artists? Not cool. He gave an estimate at the start based on time and materials to execute your design. End of story. If you miscalculate a price estimate, you eat the difference and know better for next time. (But yes, a written agreement would have been a great help here… ah, hindsight…) Changing the design without your approval was also not at all professional. This was a manufacturing order, not a creative/design order. You asked for what you wanted, it was not up to them to change it.

In my view, it doesn't matter whether you're dealing with a commercial manufacturing firm or a student. You engaged them to make something for you, with the understanding that you would pay. That makes it a contract.

If it were me, I would contact the teacher and his supervisor (the principal, school board, or whoever would be appropriate). Let them know that you’re unhappy with the way the communication went for the project, the final price, and the product you ultimately received. And I would request that they re-do the piece that was anti-rusted, at no cost to you. See what they say. It can’t hurt to ask.

And yes, remind them if they want to sell their products, they need to use original designs. (Make sure they delete your art off their computer after they make the replacement for the anti-rust-sprayed piece.)

Sarah said...

Oh gosh - I bet I would have done exactly what you did in this situation - I hear you on the confrontation/non-confrontation thing. If I was you I would be wishing I had been firmer about seeing the design alterations and pinning down a maximum cost which reflected contract work, it may have been good to walk away at the time they started comparing their contract work with the work of an artist they saw - totally off the mark from them - this was absolutely a contract for production - not their art.

I do think different arrangements should apply for students and professionals - so would expect more back and forth - to have to be more flexible on time frames to overall accept a less professional process and potentially end product (within reason). The fact that it is a student undertaking work should absolutely be reflected in how much you are expected to pay. As a non-art example if a student hairdresser does a cut you pay way less than for a top stylist.

Would I send an email? I think I might as ultimately they could have handled this so much better and it would bring me a feeling of closure that stumping up cash for something I wasn't 100% happy with just wouldn't.

If you can phrase it really constructively then you are offering them a good view of what their behaviour looked like from the other side and what they might want to aim for if this is something they want to do more of.

Sorry for you that this wasn't an uplifting experience but I'm very glad J likes the end product!

Carrie K said...

I think they were wildly over optimistic at first, with the original pricing. The teacher should have/could have done a bit more research w/materials and time involved.

I can only liken it to knitting a pattern - I might have the directions but I still have to buy the materials, interpret the design correctly - and there may be issues the designer didn't realize because it wasn't test-knit.

But all that said, being fobbed off that way would drive me wild. If there's a problem, SAY SO. If the student's learning curve made the carving more like 100 hours (and he's copping to 5), that's one thing. If the "going rate" for a professional is 10 x the amount quoted - well, better luck next time. (For them. To price it better. They quoted you a price, they should have handled upping it much better.)

But your yard does look fabulous! And since I can't compare your original design (hint-hint), the artwork does look nice.

knitty_kat said...

It's not just you, I'd be put off too. You weren't in anyway treated in a professional manor, nor did you truly receive the project that you originally requested.

As a rule, students do not make the same wages as someone with experience and expertise in a field. Consider hair dressing or an apprentice in a trade. A fully licensed professional receives a higher wage.

There was a decided lack of professionalism to the entire deal which, IMO, should have been the first thing demonstrated to the student. Students should be taught how interactions are expected to proceed, what makes their skills marketable and what will help them succeed. I don't think he learned any of these things.

The items are indeed nice, but as a paying customer you didn't receive what was originally agreed upon and you have every right to be happy with them. I do question where the money from the transaction went - I'm thinking the teacher pocketed it for his/her time.

I think, if it's going to bother you every time you look at them, have your piece. I'd have to say something, but I'd bring it up with someone else at the school.

Good luck!

Kathy said...

I got frustrated just reading about it. And, I fear I would have reacted similarly and been similarly disappointed. I think the teacher is wildly unprofessional and has now passed that on to his students. My thoughts are a bit jumbled, so instead of writing a stream of consciousness rant, I'll try to organize my thoughts.

Denise | Chez Danisse said...

In a nutshell, ugh.

I agree with your apples to oranges opinion and would have pulled out of the agreement and picked up my drawings when the teacher suggested his increased pricing.

Cutting your drawings on a laser cutter is not creating original artwork. Sheesh, what was this teacher thinking? He's setting such a poor example.

I would let the whole thing go. Personally, I'd be so perturbed by the situation that I wouldn't want the pieces in my yard to remind me of it and I'd give them to a thrift shop. I know this seems pretty crazy, but I bet I would do it.

Most importantly, you must understand that these opinions are coming from a woman who fired her florist the week before her wedding.

Do what will make you most happy and content in the end. You are clearly wise, Rachel. I know you'll come up with a good solution.

PS - My husband and I had a lot of fun watching The Big Year. Thanks!

Ann said...

I do understand your frustration & you should should send the school an email about the whole process & the problems. My daughter is an art student & she had sold some of her work at prices which cannot be compared to professionals.

Phoe said...

I think you're perfectly justified. I also think that the student better wise up because in the market at large that kind of thing will not fly.

You certainly shouldn't pay that much for that little work AND it isn't what you wanted. But then I'm more confrontational. Perhaps the idea of involving a school official is the best (and most diplomatic) way to deal.

Rue said...

Oh my, I'm so sorry that happened! I can completely understand why you made each decision along the way, and I think you are perfectly justified in feeling dissatisfied (at best) with the transaction.

What would I do differently? (Quick disclaimer - you know what I do for a living :) )

1. Put the original agreement in writing! This can be as simple as writing a follow-up email to the teacher after the conversation where he agreed to take on the work. You would just outline the work to be done, price, timeline (or lack thereof), and any other important points.

I don't think the fact that it is a student changes things too much. Yes, it brings the price down, but you also want to help introduce the student to the world of professional art production.

2. I think this was definitely a contract situation where you asked the student to produce a design to your specifications. From how you described the initial transaction, there wasn't much room for originality on the student's part. You provided the design and asked the student to fit it to the chosen medium.

3. I would write a letter to the teacher explaining your concerns, and I would copy the school principal or administration on the letter. The teacher acted unprofessionally on behalf of the school and the school would probably want to know about that.

I would also take the piece sprayed with the anti-rust solution back and ask for a replacement that matched your original specifications.

I'm more than happy to talk about this via e-mail if you like.

Ultimately, do whatever you think would help you move on and not stress out over this anymore.

elizabeth said...

The ONLY thing I think you did wrong was to not let them know you were unhappy when they finished the first piece. I agree with your reasoning and I understand you wanting to be through with it and have it done, but you're left unsatisfied and they haven't learned anything. They will repeat these mistakes in the future. I would definitely let them know how you feel about the process, about the fees and lack of clarity and absolutely about their copying others' designs and selling them as their own - I'm sure the school can't afford to be sued!

On a happy note - I love your yard!!! When can I move in? ;o)